READY PLAYER ONE
Review by: Christopher Haskell
April 5, 2018
“These three words were always the last thing an OASIS user saw before leaving the real world and entering the virtual one: READY PLAYER ONE”― Ernest Cline, “Ready Player One” (novel)
Taking a 385 page novel and truncating it into an enjoyable two-and-a-half hour feature is no easy feat, yet director Steven Spielberg and writers Zak Penn and Ernest Cline succeed in streamlining the narrative of Cline’s novel and bringing to life a fully-realized, futuristic world filled with as many ‘80s references and existing intellectual properties as Warner Bros. could afford. Had the pages been adapted precisely, the film would have felt like a complete retread and, for anyone that had read the book, there would be no mystery. Instead, what plays out on screen is a new adventure that recaptures the spirit of the original hunt while allowing the cinematic version to unfold in a new and exciting way.
Set in the year 2045, “Ready Player One” is based on a future where the general population spends most of its time in a virtual reality called the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation) accessed through a visor much the way of the Oculus Rift. After the creator James Halliday dies, a contest unveils, named after his avatar. “Anorak’s Quest” involves a hunt for three keys (a copper, a jade, and a crystal key) within the OASIS. The first person to find the keys and Halliday’s Easter egg earns complete control of the OASIS and becomes the sole heir to Halliday’s fortune. Open to anyone, the contest attracts a competing company called IOI (Innovative Online Industries) seeking to gain control of the OASIS to capitalize off it by using any means necessary, including the use of indebted and indentured workers known as Sixers. After years of no one solving the first clue, the only other interested party is a group of Halliday superfans known as Gunters (“egg hunters”). While some work together in “clans,” many, including our protagonists Parzival (Tye Sheridan) and Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), go it alone.
“Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story… Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.”― Parzival & Art3mis, “Ready Player One” (film)
Sheridan and Cooke are future Hollywood royalty. As Parzival/Wade Watts and Art3mis/Samantha Cook, both actors bring a uniqueness to their roles that merely is irreplicable. Despite critics scoffing at their lack of character development, I found myself wholeheartedly anticipating the pairs every scene together. Ben Mendelsohn plays a serviceable villain as Nolan Sorrento, the CEO of IOI. Much like his villain role of Director Orson Krennic in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” he never entirely goes as dark as you wish he would. Instead of being a formidable and threatening opponent, he plays more to comedy and relies heavily on others to do his dirty work. Having an endless arsenal of weapons at his disposal, like his use of Mecha-Godzilla, does help keep him on the same level as our heroes but, on his own, Sorrento feels like a weak villain in the hands of Mendelsohn. Simon Pegg is underutilized, T.J. Miller’s villainous voice-over role, i-R0k, produces some well-earned laughs, and Lena Waithe as Parzival’s friend Aech (pronounced like the letter “H”) is a welcome addition to the crew, packing the necessary punch for anyone that hasn’t read the book or paid attention to the character posters.
Unfortunately, Mark Rylance as OASIS creator James Halliday is a complete miscast. From the first piece of marketing that featured Rylance in the role, I was skeptical. In the book, Halliday is an eccentric who is out of touch with reality, but he never comes off as autistic, which is how Rylance plays the role. The Halliday on the page presents more like a geekier Steve Jobs. With a brilliant mind and zero social skills, the man still has enough street smarts to have developed a groundbreaking technology and keep control of it. He has a discernible taste in all things the ’80s and all things video games and is unyielding in his love for these. The Halliday in the film reflects none of these qualities, remaining stunted, meandering, and simpleminded.
To make matters worse, Rylance projects in an over-the-top, caricature fashion, making the character completely unbelievable. A comedic actor like Steve Martin playing straight could have done wonders with this role. Alternatively, an established character actor, like Ralph Fiennes or Daniel Day-Lewis, could have elevated the film by highlighting the tragedy of Halliday’s character and adding a layer of emotional depth, something it appeared Rylance attempted but failed.
“No one in the world gets what they want and that is beautiful.”― Ernest Cline, “Ready Player One” (novel)
As a massive fan of Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick, the highlight of the film is the hunt for the second key in a replica set of “The Shining.” Pitting the unsuspecting Aech, who hasn’t seen the 80’s classic, against the horror elements portrayed in the film, like the creepy twins, the elevator blood cascade, and the dangers of Room 237, provides some unique comedic relief. It also pays homage to a feature in the book where characters were inserted into Halliday’s favorite movies, actually living in scenes from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and “War Games.” Either of those would have been fine lifts from the pages, but the choice to stick with a Warner Bros. property is completely understandable. Continuing the theme of comedic relief in the form of established horror IP, one of the Gunters using a weaponized Chucky doll (from the film “Child’s Play”) against the Sixers during the end battle was also a memorable touch.
Nitpicking at the film, the question of why Spielberg chose not to have the main title of READY PLAYER ONE appear when Wade first puts on the OASIS visor, which Cline goes out of his way to describe in the book, bewilders me. Not only does it lift directly from the pages and show where the book and the movie get their title, but it also pays tribute to video games in general, which is what inspired Cline to create this nostalgia-fest in the first place. Not to mention, it would have made for a dynamic way to introduce the title at the beginning of the film, rather than putting white type on a plain black background, which is what Spielberg chose to do instead.
“Ready Player One” is essentially a return to form for Steven Spielberg. His foray in historical dramas like “Lincoln,” “Bridge Of Spies,” and “The Post” has shown a distinct side to his directing prowess, but the genres of science fiction and adventure film are where he shines. At surface level, Spielberg delivers a big budget popcorn flick that brings together properties like King Kong, the Iron Giant, the DeLorean. But at the heart of his film is the full realization of the world Ernest Cline imagined in the pages of his book.
March 29, 2018
“Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline
Warner Bros. Pictures
(for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language)